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I thought you said you were a science writer?

February 5, 2011

The writing journey begins - Flickr: Justin See

My twitter biography claims that I am a science writer. I’ll sometimes talk about this mysterious “job” I have. Hell, the sub-title of this blog is ‘Science, Journalism, and Science Journalism.’ And yet, almost nowhere to be seen within the walls of my internet home, is any writing about Earth science, the main focus for my career, and the subject of my university education.  There is some writing about science writing, but not a whole lot of science writing. But why is this?

It seems that I’ve been running on a perverted version of the ethics laid down by my professors in journalism school – that I should never advertise for any company, product or organization. Somewhere along the line I took that to mean you should separate your hobbies from your paid work, and, well, here we are. This is clearly an unnecessarily distorted view.

I’ve always kept a running collection of my bigger stories in the portfolio section of this site, but unless I had something substantial to add (like an interview or briefing transcript) I’ve (mostly) kept it far away from the main section. I don’t always have extra material to add – not every movie comes with DVD extras – but maybe, just maybe, you friendly folk who stumble across my blog might be interested in some of these stories.

(Sometimes I will post stories on Twitter, but one of the important messages I took away from Science Online 2011 is that your blog audience and your twitter audience are not the same. I’ve had twitter longer than I’ve had this blog, so it’s something I often forget.)

So Colin,” you ask, “what have you written lately?”

“I’m glad you asked. Here, let me show you!”


I put together a photo slideshow for Discover Magazine‘s website about “11 Space Missions That Will Make Headlines in 2011.” The most recent data-dump from the Kepler planet-hunting satellite has already borne out, and it looks like Stardust is NeXT in line. People have seemed to enjoy this story, and maybe you will too?

Other than that brief jaunt into freelance writing – something I am looking forward to doing more of – most of my writing has been for the American Geophysical Union, a scientific society and journal publisher for Earth and space sciences. I have two projects for the AGU that I’ve working on, the first is Q&As with the authors of scientific books. The Q&As run in the AGU’s member-only newspaper, Eos, and so are unfortunately behind a pay-wall. So far, two of the Q&As have been published:

Range and Richness of Vascular Land Plants: The Role of Variable Light – An interview with Peter Eagleson: “…There is a particular level of shortwave radiation that for each species is at once maximally productive and minimally stressful to the leaf and that produces maximum efficiency of photosynthetic behavior. These behaviors suggested to me that local light may be the major climatic selector of local species.”

Carbon Cycling in Northern Peatlands – An interview with Andrew Baird: “… The amount of carbon stored in northern peatlands is between 3 and 5 times that stored in the Amazon and about 50 times the global annual emissions of carbon through fossil fuel burning. There is concern that the carbon stored in peatlands may “leak” back to the atmosphere as peatlands warm and respond to changes in rainfall. They could be a sleeping giant that still remains asleep, but if that sleeping giant wakes up, then we could have problems, and they could have a big effect on future climate.”

More recently, I’ve also started writing summaries of studies selected by journal editors to be ‘Journal Highlights.’

Spooky action at a distance, for earthquakes – It seems earthquakes can trigger other earthquakes, even ones over 10, 000 km away. You can read more about this study here.

Evidence for water ice near the Martian equator David Shean thinks he found buried water ice at the equator on Mars. It’s supposed to be too hot at the equator, but he suspects it got there because of Mars’ wobbly-axis. “Earth’s axial tilt undergoes small wobbles but tends to stay within a few degrees of its current position of 23.4°. Mars’s tilt, which currently sits at 25.2°, is thought to oscillate between about 0° and 60°.”

New evidence could let supereruption off the hook – There’s nothing like a massive volcanic eruption that throws the world into permanent winter to dampen your spirits. The Younger Toba Tuff eruption was accused of nearly wiping out modern humans, but this new study suggests the YTT eruption couldn’t have pulled the trigger.


Anyway, that’s it for now. There are plenty more book Q&As and journal summaries to write, and few already waiting in the wings to be published. If you enjoyed this, please do let me know – I’ll try to do a better job getting all of this work in one place.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2011 12:59 pm

    This is great … maybe you can do a round-up like this once a month or so. It would highlight what you do so people in your network can find it but wouldn’t simply be re-posting it.

  2. February 5, 2011 6:22 pm

    I like Brian’s idea. I’m interested in your writing about science writing and your actual geoscience writing. Weekly or monthly roundups are convenient b/c I know I can go look for them, even if I miss them when they first come out.

  3. February 7, 2011 12:00 pm

    Hey both of you,

    Thanks for the feedback, and Brian that’s a great idea!

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